An eager reader sends me this CNBC article comparing Canadian and American taxes. The article includes this great chart showing that total per capita taxation in our two countries has remained close to the OECD average (that’s the 35 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged calm and said Americans should have “no concerns” after North Korea and President Donald Trump traded fiery threats, insisting Wednesday he doesn’t believe there is “any imminent threat.”
“Americans should sleep well at night,” Tillerson said.
…Tillerson downplayed any speculation that the alarming developments suggested the U.S. was moving closer to a military option to dealing with the crisis over the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Using private health insurance claims data to estimate the cost of extending gender transition–related health care coverage to transgender personnel indicated that active-component health care costs would increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, representing a 0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures [Agens Gereben Schaefer et al., “Assessing the Implications of Allowing Transgender Personnel to Serve Openly,” RAND Corporation, 2016].
For comparison, we learned last week that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will cost us $27.5 billion more than we thought last year. The three F-35 models will cost $94.6 million to $122.8 million apiece. That’s tremendous.
Trump also blurbs that transgender soldiers cause “disruption“. The Rand study analyzed the transgender-service policies of Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom—four of eighteen countries that allow openly transgender soldiers to serve—and found “In no case was there any evidence of an effect on the operational effectiveness, operational readiness, or cohesion of the force.”
Once again, Trump is making claims that are patently false to justify a policy reversal whose only real motivation appears to be his insatiable vindictiveness toward his predecessor.
For Americans, this is an exciting time. A new spirit of optimism is sweeping our country: in just a few months, we have created almost a million new jobs, added over 3 trillion dollars of new value, lifted the burdens on American industry, and made record investments in our military that will protect the safety of our people and enhance the security of our wonderful friends and allies — many of whom are here today [Donald Trump, speech to leaders of 50+ Muslim countries, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as transcribed by CNN, 2017.05.21].
Creating jobs? Actually, in the only organization over which Trump currently has direct control over job creation, the federal government, Trump has imposed a hiring freeze and shed 8,400 jobs. Across the economy, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports monthly net changes in employment in 2017, January through April, of 216,000, 232,000, 79,000, and 211,000. If we give Trump credit for President Obama’s chunk of January to make up for not having data for May yet, those four figures add up to 738,000, less than three quarters of a millions. The average monthly net change in jobs in 2017 is 185,000, which is lower than the average monthly net change in jobs in every year of President Obama’s second term.
In touting “record investments in our military,” Trump mistakes wishes for horses:
He’s getting ahead of developments on military spending, with no budget passed. He also not proposing a record increase in military spending as his remarks might imply.
The 10 percent increase he called for in his March budget outline has been exceeded three times in recent history – the base military budget went up by 14.3 percent, in 2002, 11.3 percent in 2003 and 10.9 percent in 2008, according to the Pentagon. Looked at another way and deeper into history, military spending consumed 43 percent of the economy in 1944, during World War II, and 15 percent in 1952, during the Korean War. It was 3.3 percent in 2015, says the World Bank [Calvin Woodward and Christopher S. Rugaber, “AP Fact Check: Trump Exaggerates Record While Abroad,” AP via Hudson Valley News 12, 2017.05.22].
We can’t believe Trump on jobs, the economy, or the military. There may be no war of civilizations, but Trump continues his war on facts.
This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it [Donald Trump, speech to leaders of 50+ Muslim countries, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as transcribed by CNN, 2017.05.21].
Trump also sat with his hands clasped in his lap during a Muslim invocation and offered no rebuttal to King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who introduced Trump’s address to the summit by saying (through a translator) that terrorists (fueled largely by Iranian/Khomeinist extremists) have tried to “exploit Islam as a cover for political purposes”:
Islam and will always be the religion of mercy, tolerance, and coexistence as confirmed by brilliant precedents. In its prosperous times, Islam provided the best examples of coexistence and harmony among followers of religions and cultures. However, we see today that some presumed Muslims seek to present a distorted picture of religion, a picture that seeks to conflate this rich religion with violence. We say to our Muslim brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters everywhere, that one of the most important goals of Islamic sharia is protecting life, and there is no honor in committing murder. Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance that urges its followers to develop Earth and forbids them from corrupting it. It considers killing an innocent soul tantamount to killing all of humanity. Our way to achieve the goals of our religion and win everlasting life in heaven is to promote the tolerant values of Islam which are based on peace, moderation, and refraining from destroying and corrupting Earth [King Salman, address to Muslim summit, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2017.05.21].
There you go, straight from the President and his new pal the King: there is no war of civilizations. Islam is a religion of peace. And we trust and love our Muslim brothers and sisters in Saudi Arabia so much that the President is going to make sure that they “get a good deal from our great American defense companies.”
These airguns use compressed air to generate intense pulses of sound 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine. Their loud blasts are used on a recurring basis, going off every ten seconds, for 24 hours a day, often for weeks on end. They are so loud that they penetrate through the ocean and miles into the seafloor, then bounce back, bringing information to the surface about the location of buried oil and gas deposits.
Airgun blasts harm whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and fish. The types of impacts marine mammals may endure include temporary and permanent hearing loss, abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, beach strandings, and even death. Seismic airguns could devastate marine life, harming fisheries and coastal economies along the Atlantic coast [Greenpeace, “Seismic and Sonar Testing,” retrieved 2017.05.15].
Some landowners in Fall River County, a fair distance from any sensitive whales and sea turtles, are hiring a private company to use seismic testing to look for oil and gas. John D. Taylor describes the process:
Seismic testing involves a large metal plate pushed down on top of the earth, through which are sent high-frequency vibrations, called seismic waves. The waves are created by either a dynamite blast or a specialized air gun. The waves bounce back (reflect or refract) in the rock strata, and are recorded by receivers known as geophones. Oil and gas geologists can “read” the seismographs generated by the testing unit to determine if there are pockets of oil or natural gas below. Think of it as something like using a fish finder [John D. Taylor, “Seismic Crews Want to Test up to 46,000 Acres Northwest of Provo for Oil and Gas,” Hot Springs Star, 2017.05.09].
U.S. Forest Service Hot Springs staffer Mike McNeil gave the Fall River County Commission a map showing the proposed seismic testing area around Provo, about eight miles south of Edgemont. The map, included in the commission’s May 2 agenda packet, bears the logo of Paragon Geophysical Services, Inc., a Wichita-based seismic testing company:
No whales on that map—what could possibly go wrong with pounding the ground with dynamite and air guns?
Did you notice “Black Hills Army Depot” written on that map? What’s out there?
The trenches were used to bury weapons, including chemical agents in containers, bombs and rockets, around BHAD, [Edgemont rancher Susan] Henderson said. This included M55 rockets.
A 1990s Congressional study showed that thousands of these rockets were filled with chemical agents. Today, some 50 -75 years after they were buried, a Sandia Labs study showed these rockets are destabilizing and could “auto ignite.” Also, when the temperature of the rocket rises above 55 degrees it can ignite. There have been multiple “blow-ups” of these rockets in other areas where the rockets were stored, she told the commissioners, worrying that seismic testing could set off a chain reaction of rockets in trenches.
Chemical warfare gas-filled rockets and bombs were also buried in bunkers, she said.
“There were hundreds of thousands of tons of chemical warfare agents stored or buried underground, 368,000 tons of Sarin alone” she said, “along with GB, VX, mustard gas, terrible Nazi stuff and secret stuff that no one knows about” [Taylor, 2017.05.09].
Terrible Nazi stuff? Among the numerous nefarious munitions listed in this BHAD inventory, one of the first disposed packages consisted of “Captured German Chemicals.”
Now I don’t think seismic testing is going to trigger Hydra’s Obelisk, but I can understand area ranchers’ concern that thumping the ground with dynamite could disturb some unexploded ordnance.
In 2016, Fall River County produced 17,928 barrels of oil, compared to 343 barrels in Custer County and 1,388,399 barrels in Harding County. DENR shows no marketed gas produced in Fall River County in 2016.
I don’t know of any wildcatters getting blown up in Fall River County yet, but it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful setting off dynamite and air guns near the old munitions dump. If seismic testing can upset whales, it can probably upset old, deteriorating, unexploded chemical weapons.
State sales tax revenues have fallen below the previous fiscal year’s revenues for eight of the nine last months. And remember, we’re charging an extra half-cent sales tax on every dollar sale than we did in FY2016, so that 2.16% drop in tax revenues in March represents a 13.03% drop in taxable sales. [Correction! 2017.04.21 16:08 CDT: Notice that term “base sales tax” in the charts? LRC calculated these revenues based on the old 4% rate, to compare apples to apples. They did not include the extra half-penny tax for teacher pay, so the 2.16% drop in sales tax revenues does indeed present a straight 2.16% drop in taxable sales, not the even worse 13.03% drop that I feared. I apologize for the error.]
My response: The President took an impulsive, expensive action without any vision or strategy. Military action taken outside of a coherent strategy only weakens the country in terms of materiel and geopolitical capital. It makes us look like reckless rogues, not reliable, deliberate allies.
The Republicans who’d like to replace Noem did speak up on Trump’s cruise missile attack on Syria last week. Speaking at the Yankton County GOP dinner the night after Trump’s attack, both Dusty Johnson and Shantel Krebs expressed qualified support:
On foreign policy, Johnson said the United States needs to act against atrocities such the gassing of Syrian refugees.
“We are at war (against terrorism), but I’m not a big fan of sabre rattling,” he said. “Any use of force needs to be part of a broader strategy. It’s not something that we do just on a whim.”
…Krebs supported President Trump’s response to President Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own Syrian people.
“President Assad did horrific things, and we needed to answer,” Krebs said. “However, Congress also needs to be involved (with U.S. military responses)” [Randy Dockendorf, “It’s Party Time,” Yankton Press & Dakotan, updated 2017.04.09].
Johnson wants broader strategy, not saber-rattling—star that in your talking points, Representative Noem.
Senator John Thune fielded questions from fourteen citizens during his town hall in Aberdeen today. You can view most of the questions and responses, along with most of Senator Thune’s opening remarks, in this YouTube playlist consisting of 17 separate videos. I’m happy to offer fourteen of Thune’s responses in the clips below. (I missed one follow-up about the draft—Thune says no, there won’t be one, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that NSA chief H.R. McMaster keeps cleaning house and ups Trump’s meds to make sure no draft is needed.)
1. Guns and Butter: Asked what data indicate that we need to trade services for the elderly, education, and other social programs to increase military spending, Senator Thune says that if we don’t have guns, we won’t have any butter:
2. NEH, NEA, and Public Broadcasting: Asked about the cuts the Trump budget would make to the national Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Thune dodges, saying the budget has to get through Congress:
3. Federal Workforce and Pensions: Different topic, similar dodge: Thune says he doubts we’ll see the 17% cuts that the questioner says the Trump budget would wreak on federal workers and their pensions, but he doesn’t say he’ll defend federal workers and retirees from such cuts.
5. Goodbye, Filibuster; Hello, Gorsuch: Thune gives perhaps his only direct rebuttal of the day, challenging the questioner’s claim that his vote last week to change the rules to end filibusters on Supreme Court nominations to pave the way for putting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court with fewer than 60 votes. Thune says Democrats started it in 2003 by filibustering ten Bush II judicial nominees; Republicans followed in 2013 by filibustering two of Obama’s judicial nominees, to which Democrats responded by changing the rules on filibusters for lower court nominees. Democratic Senators Kaine and Reid promised last fall to undo filibusters on Supreme Court nominees, so the change was inevitable, regardless of who won the White House and the Senate. Thune contends that the filibuster has rarely been used on Supreme Court nominees, so the repeal of its use really restores the Senate to the way things were done long before today’s partisan squabbles. [So Democrats, the lesson here: don’t squabble about procedure; just keep hammering Thune and the Trumpublicans on the real harms their policies do to rural America!]
6. Budgets vs. Continuing Resolutions: Thune says we’ll get the budget for Fiscal Year 2017 (which began over six months ago) done by the end of April… or maybe a little later.
7. More Military Spending: More guns. More bombs. Count on it.
8. Why Syria? Thune says we attacked Syria last week to send three messages: to Assad, that he better not use chemical weapons again (or what—we’ll put burn marks on another set of runways?); to our allies, that America really is ready to lead (lead where? chaos? a deeper refugee crisis which we are unwilling to ameliorate?); and to North Korea, Russia, and other provocateurs, that… well, “we’ll see what comes of it.”
9. Let the IRS Do Its Job: Thune admits that, along with his magical incantations of growth (“We must! We must! We must increase our GDP!”), it might not be a bad idea to make sure the Internal Revenue Service has the resources to collect taxes.
10. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Thune doesn’t say kill the CFPB, but he sure wants to rein it in:
11. Dodd-Frank Overkill:Thune characterizes the CFPB and Dodd-Frank banking reforms coming out of the recession as typical “over-reaction,” “overkill,” and a “sledgehammer” that imposes “tremendous” (careful! Trump is contagious!) costs on banks and small:
12. Big Sioux? What Pollution? Darned Obama! Pressed to say how he’ll help improve water quality in the highly polluted Big Sioux River, Thune insists South Dakota is blessed with “fairly pristine” conditions relative to other places, then pivots to gripe about the discarded Obama Waters of the U.S. rule. You know, John, Obama isn’t President anymore. You are the Republican White House are going to have to start owning and fixing problems.
13. Red Tape, Wetlands, and Roads: A guy asks about cutting red tape so counties could drain wetlands and build roads faster and cheaper. The proper conservationist response is, “Hold your horses! Wetlands are good for fishing, hunting, wildlife, and water quality downstream in the Big Sioux like that lady asked about!” The John Thune response is a gentle, noncommittal ramble about making it easier to build infrastructure.
The town hall showed no sign of the open outrage and disruptive protest that marked town halls in other states earlier this year. There was a brief surge of contentious yaying and booing following the question about the filibuster and Gorsuch. Otherwise, dissent took the form of tough questions about the real impacts of Trump budget cuts on South Dakota, with our senior Senator calmly avoiding taking a position either for his constituents or his President. Avoiding taking a position—that’s the kind of leadership we get from South Dakota Republicans.
Senator John Thune held a one-hour town hall for about 90 interested citizens here in Aberdeen today. I’ll post video of the fourteen questions he fielded shortly, but first, here are his opening comments on agriculture, boosting GDP growth, and spending more on guns.
Cutting taxes and regulations and wishing for yesteryear’s GDP growth seems an awfully thin policy agenda. But don’t be scared of John Thune’s lack of policy vision. Be scared of the world, which is “increasingly dangerous,” and which we must confront by buying more guns:
I would agree that the world is more dangerous with Donald Trump in charge of armed cruise missiles. I would disagree with Senator Thune that the proper solution is to spend more money on national security. Actually, with Donald Trump’s finger on the button, the proper solution to global danger could be to spend much less on things Donald Trump can launch and detonate.
We’ll hear more from Thune on voodoo economics, guns and butter, the filibuster, and more in his responses to constituent questions, coming up on Dakota Free Press!